Ever since Hal Steinbrenner decided to switch the Yankees from spending their money to hoarding it, Brian Cashman has been forced to wait out the early part of the offseason until players drop their prices and put themselves on the discount rack.
Cashman scored just such a player on Friday. Travis Hafner signed a one-year, $2 million deal to spend the 2013 season as a designated hitter in the Bronx.
On the surface, it looks like a bet in the Raul Ibanez vein for the Yankees general manager. Hafner has some huge seasons in the past -- he was one of the American League's best hitters from 2004-2006 -- but has slowed down in recent years with injuries limiting him to 94 games or less in four of the last five seasons.
Health is obviously going to be a big concern for the 35-year-old, but there's reason to think that he'll prove to be another score for Cashman's penny-pinching portfolio. The left-handed hitter has been particularly effective when he pulls the ball and the right field wall in Yankee Stadium is the kind of thing that rewards power hitters who do that.
Stick Hafner in there for 400 plate appearances or so and the Yankees should get in the neighborhood of 20 home runs to add to the lineup. That's helpful under any circumstances, but it should be particularly helpful since the Yankees haven't done anything of note to replace what they lost from Nick Swisher, Russell Martin and Ibanez so far this offseason.
And, of course, they have no idea what, if anything, they'll get from Alex Rodriguez this season. Hafner's bat helps cover for that absence, although Kevin Youkilis is the real replacement for A-Rod, while also giving the team a bit more flexibility to use Eduardo Nunez as a super utility man.
Nunez can play at various spots around the infield to give players a day off rather than being forced into the DH mix where his versatility serves the team absolutely no purpose since he can't go into the field without the pitcher entering the lineup. With Youkilis in the fold, the Yankees are now a bit better prepared in the event Rodriguez doesn't play at all even if that seems like an unlikely proposition.
It's not the old Yankee way of doing things, but signing veterans on the cheap has still been an effective way of doing things. It's up to Hafner to keep that trend alive.